Monday, May 24, 2010

Grocery store disputes spread across the country

Extra Foods workers in Prince Rupert, who may very well be out of work by June may just be the tip of the labour unrest iceberg this summer.

And while it may be reassuring to be held up as one of the key points of an ongoing labour situation, it probably will not offer much comfort to those that may be unemployed if the local store closes its doors as expected next month.

The local store which is in the midst of a bit of turmoil over plans by the Loblaws Corporation to change the company profile to that of a No Frills operation, is just one of many grocery stores facing similar moves by the large Canadian grocery retailer.

The Globe and Mail outlined over the weekend the brewing labour battle in Ontario as Loblaws (the parent company of Extra Foods) seeks to become more competitive with the likes of WalMart and Cosco in the competitive and heavily populated Ontario marketplace.

Loblaws is currently seeking to change the workplace dynamic of its 30,000 Ontario employees, looking to gain more flexibility to adjust staff scheduling and job descriptions, and in turn lower costs.

Some of their plans for Ontario have put the workers union in that province on a battle footing, seeking to stem the tide of concessions and work environment changes that are trending towards outsourcing some of the instore work to the company's various suppliers.

The changing nature of the relationship between the company and its workers has at times proven to be controversial and acrimonious, as seen by the recent troubles in Prince Rupert which saw the union and company exchanging accusations and concerns over the local situation.

The UFCW website provides a report that in April Loblaws was ordered to pay some 50,000 dollars in back pay to employees that were as the union describes, "illegally locked out". Following negotiations in April it appears that Loblaws put forward it's plans to move towards a store closure.

Loblaws has had a similar situation played out in Maple Ridge over the last sixteen months where Extra Foods workers have been on the picket lines against the company over similar issues as those in Prince Rupert.

Judging by the recent developments both in Prince Rupert and now in Ontario, summer may be a very hot season in the retail grocery industry for both the company and its workers.

Regular readers of the blog have followed the progress of the Extra Foods situation, below is a recap of some of our posted items of the last six months or so.

Apr 9/10-- Podunk Below the Masthead (Workers stay the course at Extra Foods)
Feb 22/10-- Extra Foods and UFCW talks break down
Nov 30/09-- No Frills or No jobs

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